Forget Sugar, Maybe Groupthink Causes Obesity

Should the recent news that obesity rates are still climbing prompt rethinking of some popular, but shaky assumptions about what it will take to reverse the trends in obesity? Could it be that groupthink is a key problem that undermines our obesity strategies?

It would be hard to miss the fact that like minded people stick together in their consideration of strategies to address obesity. A certain amount of this is natural. Public health professionals, basic scientists, clinical researchers, and healthcare providers all confront different challenges in sorting out the problem of obesity.

But it should not be that people who think differently about obesity are content to preach to their own choirs. Such preaching gets loudest when the subject is added sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages. Food deserts, restaurant menu labeling, and many flavors of dietary advice are other subjects where advocates prefer not to speak with scientists looking for evidence that a good idea actually has good effects.

Obesity Trends 2014Dismissing the call for better evidence, we often hear it said that obesity is like a flood and we can’t afford to inspect every sandbag before throwing it on the levee. “The evidence for effective policies is different than the evidence for effective drugs” is another thought that gets repeated.

Rising obesity rates should be a wake-up call. Our assumptions aren’t working. It’s time to break up the groupthink and embrace the rich diversity of thinking among obesity professionals to find real solutions for obesity.

Click here for a harsh assessment of the situation from the Daily Caller.

Sheep, photograph © Vittorio Sciosia / flickr

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November 18, 2015

10 Responses to “Forget Sugar, Maybe Groupthink Causes Obesity”

  1. November 18, 2015 at 7:36 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Thanks, Ted. I love the “sand bag inspection” analogy.

    And so similar to issues with nicotine. CDC released data yesterday showing that for the first 6 months of 2015, adult cigarette smoking has reached its lowest level EVER (14.9%), with increasing reductions in the recent past (not stated in the story but true). Their explanations for why this is occurring can only be described, at least by me, as mystifying. I’d prefer to keep my mystification to my leisure time, not work!!


    • November 18, 2015 at 7:52 am, Ted said:

      I thought of you, Joe, when I read that story. My suspicion is that vaping has something to do with the drop in smoking. Yet puritans seem to prefer that smokers not switch to a safer alternative. They call this public health?

  2. November 18, 2015 at 9:10 am, Steve said:

    I suspect vaping is a part of it. Regarding public health, the ‘advocates’ sadly seem to be working towards the quixotic ‘harm elimination’ versus ‘harm reduction’.

    Let’s not discuss the potential ‘whack-a-mole’ issue of reduced smoking –> increased obesity. 😉

    • November 18, 2015 at 9:13 am, Ted said:

      I agree that smoking is a lousy way to keep weight down, Steve.

  3. November 18, 2015 at 10:51 am, Karen McBride said:

    While taxing sugary drinks doesn’t appear to have lowered obesity rates, I don’t believe that taxing hasn’t worked to reduce sugary drink consumption. I think it has, not just the tax, but the subsequent awareness. As a paediatric RN, parents (not all but many) will say to me that their child just drinks water, no juices. That has been a change over the years.
    As for a tax on one specific item (sugary drinks), the public can certainly find it’s sugar elsewhere and food companies are at the ready to provide new and tasty sources of sugar and high caloric junk.

    • November 18, 2015 at 4:10 pm, Ted said:

      Sugary drink consumption and added sugar consumption is going down, but obesity is going up. Maybe we need some new ideas.

  4. November 18, 2015 at 10:13 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Ted, good commentary and quite thought provoking. I would suggest part of the problem is searching for simplicity and a “silver bullet”. We need to keep learning and thinking. We need to demand studies of outcomes to keep the pressure on ourselves to help those with obesity. Unfortunately complexity is complex.

    P.S. I liked the picture!

    • November 19, 2015 at 7:32 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Allen. Sometimes the perfect is made into an enemy of the good.

  5. November 20, 2015 at 12:11 pm, Erik Arnesen said:

    Interpreting trends like these aren’t easy either. Even if average sugar/soda consumption has gone down, and obesity has increased, has the obese reduced their intake as much? Saying that sugar cannot be the issue because overall consumption is falling is an ecological fallacy.

    • November 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm, Ted said:

      And so it is that everyone relies upon their favorite suppositions. Thanks for sharing your view, Erik.